The Small World, Circles, and Communities
We have been building up from small groups to organizations, and it is now time to address the entire social world. As noted in the Introduction, the discovery that we are all connected in various ways has spurred the imagination of journalists, bloggers, not to mention social and physical scientists. A recent book by physicist Barabási (2002) titled, Linked: The New Science of Networks and with the copy on the front jacket reading, “How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life,” exemplifies the excitement. There have been claims and counterclaims and many technical articles in leading science journals including Science and Nature as well as more discipline-focused journals such as Physical Review, Social Networks, and the American Sociological Review. Putting aside the claim that the discovery of networks is something “new,” there are seven straightforward fundamental ideas, most of which we have already encountered in our review of basic social network concepts, that when elaborated and joined account for “small world” phenomena.
The first idea concerns the number of others that people know in the interpersonal environment or the first order zone. The second is the fact that the distribution of this number is highly skewed: a few people know a great many people while most of us know far fewer. Third, the average or modal number is sufficiently large so that everybody ought to be connected with everyone else in a few steps. However, this is not the case, and whether the average number of steps is six as in the famous “six degrees of separation” or some different number, it is always larger than the number that would